Houses built by the London County Council
|Council:||Barking and Dagenham|
Dagenham and Rainham
Becontree is a large residential estate that forms a suburb of Dagenham in Metropolitan Essex. The estate extends to approximately four square miles and was constructed in the inter-war period as the largest public housing estate in the world. The Housing Act 1919 permitted the London County Council to build housing outside of their administrative area and Becontree was constructed between 1921 and 1935 to 'cottage estate' principles in the parishes of Barking, Dagenham and Ilford. The official completion of the estate was celebrated in 1935 with a population of around 100,000 people in 26,000 homes. The building of the estate caused a huge increase in population density which led to demands on services and reforms of local government. An additional 1,000 houses were added in later phases. The estate initially had no industrial and very little commercial development until the May & Baker and Ford Dagenham sites opened nearby, and a shopping area was built at Heathway.
The estate is named after the Becontree Hundred, which covers the area and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name is Old English and means 'tree of a man named Beohha'. The tree would have stood on Becontree Heath, just outside the eastern boundary of the estate. The majority of the estate lies in the ancient parish of Dagenham and the whole estate is in the Dagenham post town, and the two names are used interchangeably.
Building of the estate
Becontree was developed between 1921 and 1935 by the LCC as a large 'cottage estate' of around 26,000 homes, intended as "homes fit for heroes" after World War I.
The very first house completed, in Chittys Lane, is recognisable by a blue council plate embedded in the wall. The construction was an enormous civil engineering project; a special railway was built especially for the building work, connecting railway sidings at Goodmayes and a wharf on the river Thames with the worksites. The building of the estate took longer than anticipated. The LCC hoped to build 24,000 homes by 1924. They were only able to achieve 3,000 and the works were extended into three phases lasting until 1935.
On 13 July 1935 the official completion of the estate was celebrated with the ceremonial opening of Parsloes Park by MP Christopher Addison. However, the demand for housing meant that a further 800 homes were built in 1937. With a population of 115,652, it was the largest public housing development in the world. After the Second World War, between 1949 and 1951, 600 houses were built by the LCC in Dagenham in an area adjacent to the estate called Heath Park.
The LCC built the estate to rehouse people from London's East End, due to slum clearance. However, the residents were almost all relatively prosperous working class, such as factory workers and busmen. At the time everyone marvelled at having indoor toilets and a private garden, although the sash windows were extremely draughty, there was no insulation in the attics, and during the winter months very few people could afford enough coal to heat the bedrooms. The toilet, bath tap and a tap in the kitchen over a copper boiler which was used for both washing clothes and heating bath water were all fed from a reservoir tank in the attic which invariably froze on winter mornings leaving the toilets unusable. One clause in the contract of tenancy stipulated that children born to parents living on the estate would not be housed by the LCC and when the time came for them to establish their own homes, the relevant local authority would be expected to provide housing.
Privet hedges (referred to as "evergreens" or "evers") were planted along the pavements at the end of every front garden and during the spring and summer months a squad of gardeners were employed to keep them in regulation height. Although the estate regulations stipulated that the gardens must be maintained in order, more than a few degenerated into virtual jungles. However, to encourage the application of this rule, prizes were awarded for the best kept gardens. Initial candidates were selected by the rent collectors during their weekly rounds and a committee decided on the final prizes which ranged from ten shillings consolation prizes up to £20 (an average week's rent in 1953 was about £1 18/- (£1.90)) for the first prize in each ward, plus a notice placed in the centre of the lawn for the benefit of passers-by.
All houses were supplied with gas by the Gas Light and Coke Company; most had gas lighting and some were fitted with electric lighting. Electricity was supplied by the County of London Electric Supply Company in Dagenham and the electricity services of Barking and Ilford municipal corporations in those sections. All gas lighting was converted to electricity in 1955. Water supply in the whole estate came from the South Essex Waterworks Company, but sewerage was split on municipal lines. In 1930 Barking and Ilford formed the Ilford and Barking Joint Sewerage Committee.
The General Post Office placed the entire estate in the Dagenham post town, including the Barking and Ilford sections, giving all residents postal addresses of "Dagenham, Essex". It is perhaps for this reason that Becontree and Dagenham became synonymous. In 1927 the LCC was reluctant to agree that the Postmaster General should provide subscriber telephone lines to the estate, as it was considered incongruous for residents of a subsidised housing scheme to be able to afford such a luxury. Lines were connected from nearby exchanges until the DOMinion exchange was opened within the estate. In 1954 it had 1,337 lines, increasing to 1,620 in 1955 and by 1958 it had 2,700 lines.
The original LCC plan anticipated a civic and commercial centre around Parsloes Park. However, LCC was only a landlord in the area and had limited ability to influence commercial development and had no control over local government. The plan was not followed and Dagenham Civic Centre opened in 1937 outside the eastern boundary of the estate. The lack of a conventional town centre meant residents used the existing centres at Barking and Ilford. Small parades of shops were provided throughout the estate, such as on Gale Street and Wood Lane, but Dagenham Urban District Council tried to make up for the lack of a high street by creating a commercial centre along Heathway in 1934.
The estate was built without any provision for car parking as it was not anticipated that tenants would own cars. The plot sizes did not allow for garages to be added to homes. The LCC provided eleven garages for rent in 1937 and a further eighty in 1951. The LCC planned a tramway through the estate, filling some of the wide spaces on roads left by the special railway, but it was never built. There were no railway stations within the boundaries of the estate, with Chadwell Heath, Dagenham, Dagenham Dock and Goodmayes a short distance away. The Fenchurch Street–Southend line of the LMS passed through the estate, without stopping. In response the LMS provided Gale Street Halt on the line in 1926. In 1932 the line was doubled with the addition of two electrified tracks. Gale Street Halt became Becontree station and a new station was added at Heathway. The stations were primarily served by the District Railway of the London Underground, which was extended from Barking to Upminster.
Over the 15-year period of the building of the estate, the school-aged population rose rapidly to 25,000 while there were only four secondary schools nearby: three in Chadwell Heath and one at Becontree Heath, which meant that many children could not attend school. The first secondary school to be built was "Green Lane" in 1923, but it later became a primary school. It was renamed "Henry Green" in 1953, after the first headmaster after the secondary school opened in 1925.
Another improvement was after the 1957 smog, when the estate was declared a smokeless zone. The houses had their old fireplaces converted for use with smokeless fuel, which included fixed gas pokers in the hearths.
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- Gayler, Hugh J. Geographical excursions in London. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1996. Print
- "Homes For Heros". 2008-01-13. http://www.locallocalhistory.co.uk/municipal-housing/heroes/. Retrieved 2016-11-24.
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- Jackson, p. 297.
- "LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL (MONEY) BILL (By Order) (Hansard, 22 May 1957)". http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1957/may/22/london-county-council-money-bill-by-order. Retrieved 2016-11-24.
- Willmott, Peter (1973). Family and class in a London suburb. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 071003914X.
- Andrzej Olechnowicz, Working-Class Housing in England Between the Wars: The Becontree Estate, Oxford historical monographs, Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford University, 1997, ISBN 978-0-19-820650-7.
- "Telephone Service, Dagenham (Hansard, 2 February 1955)". http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1955/feb/02/telephone-service-dagenham. Retrieved 2016-11-24.
- "Dominion and Rainham Exchanges (Hansard, 26 March 1958)". 1958-03-26. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1958/mar/26/dominion-and-rainham-exchanges. Retrieved 2016-11-24.
- Cherry, Bridget (2005). London. New Haven, CT London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300107013.
- Jackson, p. 290 and Plate 22, opposite p. 321.
- Jackson, p. 299: "Before [September 1923], with virtually no places available in existing schools, the children of the Becontree tenants ran wild all day, no doubt having a marvellous time".
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